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Ted Hsu for MPP

MOH addresses COVID-19 outbreaks and cases in Kingston area schools

Just two days ago, COVID-19 cases in local schools accounted for 35 per cent of the caseload in the Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington (KFL&A) region; now, those cases have dropped to 23 per cent of the 91 current active cases in the area.

Students in elementary school are particularly vulnerable to contracting COVID-10 due to their current ineligibility for vaccines in Ontario, according to Dr. Piotr Oglaza, Medical Officer of Health for KFL&A Public Health. Photo by Kelly Sikkema.

This is despite the number of COVID-19 cases in the region rising steadily through the past weeks, however, as some outbreaks come to an end in local schools, more cases are popping up in different schools that previously were not listed among those with active cases earlier this week.

While four active outbreaks continue in Limestone District School Board (LDSB) schools, the two student cases involved in the outbreak at J.G. Simcoe Public School have now resolved. The outbreak at R.G. Sinclair Public School, which seemingly topped out at 14 cases, now has five active cases. The two student cases at the Molly Brant Elementary School outbreak remain active, and the outbreak at Perth Road Public School has grown from four cases to six, including one staff member.

With a total of 20 active cases currently within LDSB schools, 11 are outbreak related. Active cases in schools that are not experiencing outbreaks include:

  • Cataraqui Woods Elementary School, where one staff member has tested positive as of Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021.
  • Frontenac Secondary School, which has one student case of COVID-19, detected Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021.
  • Lancaster Drive Public School, where one student case was detected on Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021.
  • Rideau Heights Public School, which has a total of six student cases, detected from Tuesday, Nov. 2 to Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021.

Only two of those four schools had cases earlier this week (Frontenac Secondary and Rideau Heights Public), and three schools in the LDSB have had their active COVID-19 cases resolve since Wednesday.

While all cases in schools earlier this week were within the LDSB, there is now one active case in a local Algonquin and Lakeshore Catholic District School Board (ALCDSB). St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Elementary School currently has one case, detected on Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021, which has resulted in two cohorts isolating.

There are currently no active cases of COVID-19 in local schools within the Conseil des écoles publiques de l’Est de l’Ontario (CEPEO), or the Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est (CECCE).

It is important to note that a positive case at a school does not mean the individual was exposed to COVID-19 at the school; they may have been exposed somewhere else in the community.

“With regards to the school to outbreaks, the main thing that I wanted to convey to the public is the reassurance to parents that students who have not been asked to self-isolate are safe to attend in-person classes,” Dr. Piotr Oglaza, Medical Officer of Health for KFL&A Public Health, said in a press conference on Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021.

Any time Public Health is doing an investigation in a school, they determine who the case is, and who the case potentially interacted with. As a result, the cohort associated with the initial case might be asked to self-isolate, there might be additional cohorts and additional groups of children that are are asked to self-isolate, and sometimes an investigation can lead to an entire school needing to isolate, Oglaza explained. However, when looking at risks or possible exposure, Public Health teams’ investigations lead to events or to gatherings that happen outside of school, he disclosed.

“So, even though there are children in the same cohort that test positive, they may also have [an] extensive history of exposure outside of school, whether that’s a link to a Halloween party or sleepovers, birthday parties, get togethers… [there] is consistently a risk (a situation with increased exposure) we’ve seen through our investigation,” he said.

And risk of transmission to the elementary school population is increased, Dr. Oglaza outlined.

“So, [a] very important message to parents is to keep in mind that, while many of the adults already fully vaccinated took advantage of that of that opportunity earlier on, we must remember that children…  under 12 are still not yet eligible for a vaccine. And in order to protect them from the spread of this virus, we must practice that physical distancing, masking and limiting interactions in their gatherings, or really close proximity gatherings among the unvaccinated population, even if outdoors,” he emphasized. “That’s very important. And that’s one way that’s going to keep us safe until [a] time when we have that vaccine available for [the] younger age group, five to 11.”

Because Public Health has repeatedly seen that possible transmission of the COVID-19 virus seems to take place at events outside of school when investigating cases among students, Oglaza offered some advice to parents and guardians.

“For parents of these children, please do exercise caution when planning get togethers with peers, with friends, with other families. And be mindful that your children could be at risk of contracting the virus from someone who might be infectious at the time of that meeting,” he said, noting that it is very important to keep in mind that the Delta variant spreads much more readily than the original virus we’ve dealt with in previous waves of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“So that’s something that really changes this quite a bit, in terms of how likely susceptible individuals are able to contract the virus when exposed to an infectious person.”

And while the Province of Ontario has yet to authorize COVID-19 vaccines for those under the age of 12, the path towards administering those vaccines is in place, Oglaza explained.

“We’re preparing for the vaccine rollout and the anticipated expanded eligibility to the younger age group, five to 11 years old,” he said, noting that there needs to be approval from Health Canada, recommendations from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, and direction from the province and the Ministry of Health on that vaccine rollout in order for it to take place.

“We’ve already made plans on how this rollout is going to look: We’re going to have clinics, [in] similar locations where we had [them] for the initial rollout; we’re going to have presence in schools, and [the vaccine rollout] will also be done with partnership with primary care and pharmacies. So, there’s going to be multiple channels in which the five to 11 age group will be able to get their vaccines as soon as that approval and go ahead from the province,” he explained.

“And we anticipate that this will happen sometime later this fall, maybe even this month. I don’t have an exact date, but we are ready to roll out this five to 11 immunization program as soon as we get a green light from the province.”

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